a couple of months ago

How I choose happiness

I want to share with you how I choose happiness. I hope this may be valuable to you. I hope you will be able to apply this to your life so that you might also choose happiness.

When I observe my own experience in this lifetime and when I observe what appear to be the strategies that people in this world use to try to attain happiness, I see two common categories of strategies.

One type of strategy is what I’ll call externally-focused.

The externally-focused strategies are all about manipulating external circumstances, people, and events because I (wrongly) believe that my happiness is dependent upon those external factors.

Let me give you some examples of that.

If I perceive that my bank account has too little money and that threatens my happiness, I may opt for a strategy of trying to accumulate more money.

In this example, I believe that the amount of money I have or don’t have determines my happiness. And as long as I believe that, I will remain unhappy.

I have had zero dollars to my name. And I have had hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have been unhappy in both circumstances. I have been happy in both circumstances. So the obvious truth is that how much money I have or do not have does not have anything to do with happiness.

But if I don’t recognize that *and* remain truthful to that recognition, I will be unhappy.

Here’s another example.

If I perceive that my wife is upset, I may believe that her mood determines my happiness.

If I believe that, I may try to avoid my wife. Or I may try to “make her happy” by doing “nice things”. I may waste a lot of time thinking and imagining why she is upset, taking it personally, and trying to defend myself against the invented idiocy I come up with.

But I’ve been happy when my wife is apparently upset and I’ve been unhappy when my wife is apparently upset. So the obvious truth is that my wife’s (apparent) mood has nothing to do with my happiness.

There are more examples of externally-focused strategies than I care to count. But briefly, here are a few more just to hopefully make this more clear.

If the weather is “disagreeable”, I may view the weather as an impediment to my happiness. I may waste time thinking about and imagining various “solutions” such as killing myself, moving to a better climate, gaining more money so I can buffer myself from the weather with more luxuries and distractions and comforts, etc.

If my neighbors are doing things that I find objectionable such as making loud noises, burning things that produce noxious fumes, operating a spray painting business with spray paint wafting over to me, or any of the billions of other things that neighbors might do that I might not like…I may waste time thinking about and imagining various “solutions”.

There are so many examples. I hope you get the idea.

External focus seems to be commonplace. My kids seem to be very externally focused. They argue and sometimes fight about external things that they seem to believe are impinging on their happiness. Things that can provoke this include one of them saying something, one of them wanting something, one of them getting something, one of them getting more of something, and on and on.

When I look into the world, I perceive an awful lot of external focus. It seems as though perhaps the majority are stuck in an external focus. They seem to believe that if only they can get the external stuff “right”, they will be happy. If they can get enough stuff, enough comfort, enough confirmation that they are good and right…*then* they will be happy. And as long as they aren’t getting 100% of what they think they need, they remain unhappy.

Nobody seems to get enough. Nobody seems to be able to perfect the external circumstances. And so it seems most people are unhappy.

The second type of strategy is inwardly-focused.

Inward focus strategies aim to correct some kind of inner defect. The idea is that if only I can perfect myself inwardly, then I will be happy.

Here are some examples.

If I perceive that I am not smart enough, I may waste time thinking about and imagining how I could become smarter. Or at least prove my smartness to everyone (so I can get external validation).

If I perceive that I am not healthy enough, I may waste time thinking about and imagining how I can become healthier because I wrongly believe that will make me happy.

Please note that I am not suggesting that health, wealth, supportive relationships, etc. are wrong or bad. I am simply pointing out that these are not successful strategies for happiness.

If I perceive that I am not attractive enough, I may waste time thinking about and imagining how I could become more attractive.

There are so many examples. There are more examples than I care to count.

I have used so many strategies in my life. I thought that my body shape was an impediment to happiness. I thought that I needed others to understand me (and agree with me) in order to be happy. I thought that if noises I didn’t like were happening, I couldn’t be happy. I thought that if I didn’t like my feeling state I couldn’t be happy.

On and on.

But I got REALLY tired of being unhappy. I just couldn’t take it any longer. So I got REALLY serious about being truthful.

So here’s my “strategy” for choosing happiness. So far – about seven years into this discovery – it has “worked” consistently.

My strategy for choosing happiness is to choose first and foremost to recognize the actual nature of the present experience.

And that is it. There are no further steps. Because this single step of recognizing the actual nature of the present experience instantly reveals that there is only always already happiness.

How can I recognize the actual nature of the present experience?

Here’s how. I just look.

That’s it.

The “that’s it” part is important. That is the key to success with this. Because if I add anything more to this, it does not work. I have to stop with the first step of just looking.

The instant I stop with just looking, I recognize my intrinsic happiness. It is not a happiness I can grasp or do anything with. I cannot carry it forward into the future. But it is reliably here whenever I simply look…and do nothing else.

So how can I simply look without adding more to it?

I look at each arising impulse. I watch each reaction. I observe my mechanical, compulsive conditioning.

It is like watching leaves floating by on a stream. I just watch. I don’t interfere. I don’t try to fix it. I don’t try to correct it. I just watch.

What do I see? I see everything I have tried to avoid. I see everything I have judged as an impediment to happiness.

I see self-condemnation, condemnation of others, resentment, anger, grief, hatred, rejection, wanting, longing, craving, fear, anxiety, pain. On and on.

This is everything I have tried to avoid. I just watch. I don’t get involved. I don’t try to fix it. I don’t try to avoid it. I don’t try to put a positive spin on it. I don’t look for the silver lining. I don’t justify my pain, resentments, or any of it. I don’t look for reasons. I don’t blame others. I don’t blame myself.

I do not get involved in any way. But I see my habits of trying to get involved. I see and FEEL how scared I am not to get involved.

I am scared not to get involved. I am afraid that if I don’t get involved I will suffer or die or be really cold or starve or be rejected or whatever else I might imagine.

But I am so completely tired of unhappiness I refuse to indulge the old habits. I simply won’t waste time doing more of the same thing and expecting different results. I tried to avoid fear and only got unhappiness for it. I tried to avoid discomfort and only got unhappiness for it.

Seeing this clearly, I simply remain still and observant. I just watch/observe/perceive/feel this direct experience as it is.

I don’t label it. I don’t compare it.

I just observe. Like leaves floating by on a stream.

Come what may, I remain restfully observant.

Not because I am a saint! Oh no! I am no saint. I remain restfully observant only because anything else hurts too much! It is because of my WEAKNESS that I remain restfully observant.

And I sometimes get spooked and metaphorically cover my eyes or run away.

But it hurts. So I stop. And restfully observe.

And reliably what I discover is innate happiness.

Uncaused happiness.

Unconditional happiness.

Ungraspable happiness.

And by the way, I find it to be very helpful to be physically still. I observe all the physical compulsions, the tics, the habits of squirming and squeezing. And I do not indulge those either.

I hope this is valuable to you.

Also, if you have not been participating in my Weekday Somatics video series, please do check it out. These videos offer guided inquiries that may help to make clearer what I am writing about. You can find them on my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHWqv85G7XgrMg408cHrsag

Joey Lott

Joey Lott is the author of numerous books, including The Best Thing That Never Happened and The Little Book of Big Healing. He lives in southern Vermont with his wife and children.

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